The Maple Leafs turned a 3-1 first-period lead into a 6-3 loss at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.
Multiple poor defensive sequences, some bad luck around the net, and two strong periods from Igor Shesterkin made up the losing recipe as the Rangers edged the Leafs in the three-game season series.
Here is tonight’s game in 10:
1. The Leafs got off to a fantastic start tonight, scoring two goals in the first 3.5 minutes. You didn’t want to miss the start of this one, but fortunately, this game didn’t start until 7:45 p.m. local time. After a Mitch Marner power-play goal — his first in 100+ games –– that was of the highlight reel variety, the Leafs held a 2-0 lead through the game’s first 12 minutes.
The Travis Dermott – Alex Biega pairing didn’t look great on Ryan Reaves’ first-period goal — thankfully, that won’t be a duo come playoff time — but Michael Bunting restored the team’s two-goal lead with about two minutes to play in the initial frame. The Leafs took a 3-1 lead into the first intermission, with an 11-7 lead in the shots department. Life was good in Leafs land heading into the second period.
2. The middle frame didn’t exactly go as planned. Igor Shesterkin saved all 10 shots that he faced, the Leafs went 0 for 2 on the power play, and the Rangers outscored the Leafs 2-0 in the period. And the goals weren’t exactly on Jack Campbell.
The Rasmus Sandin – Timothy Liljegren pairing was out there for both of them, with Ryan Reaves somehow scoring in back-to-back periods. Including the playoffs, Reaves had scored one goal in his previous 100 games.
The first goal was rather flukey in nature, as K’Andre Miller’s shot missed the net, deflected off the boards, and went right to Reaves. Sandin got his stick on Reaves’ initial chance, but the puck deflected right back to Reaves, who made no mistake. There’s not much that they could have done there.
The second goal was far more preventable. Liljegren had plenty of time and space to get the puck out, but he gave it up in his own end before Alex Kerfoot completely botched his coverage in front of the net, leaving Adam Fox wide open in front of the net.
The Leafs probably deserved to score once in the period, but even without a goal, they should have managed to get out of this period with a one-goal lead. A tie game through 40 minutes after you held a 3-1 edge on the scoreboard and a 4-1 power-play advantage is not ideal.
3. The third period made it clear that this was not the Leafs’ night. Ryan Strome gave the Rangers the lead halfway through the frame with — much like New York’s second tally — a rather flukey goal. Ryan Lindgren’s shot deflected off William Nylander‘s stick and went right to Strome, who basically had an empty net.
Shesterkin was a brick wall after the first, including turning aside Pierre Engvall on a shorthanded breakaway. Chris Kreider added an insurance goal with 4.5 minutes to go as — once again — Jack Campbell had little-to-no chance with a Rangers player all alone in front. Auston Matthews lost the defensive zone face-off cleanly, and Jacob Trouba wasted no time throwing the puck on net to find a wide-open Kreider.
This was not a good night in terms of luck or defensive play; Campbell deserved better than a .808 save percentage.
4. Let’s get the negatives out of the way early. First, the Rasmus Sandin – Timothy Liljegren pairing wasn’t great, which will raise questions as to whether the Leafs should add a right-shooting defenseman at the deadline. Perhaps they should, but that’s likely more about how Justin Holl performs, who’s available, and the prices in the trade market rather than tonight’s game. On the bright side, the only pairing that will be around come playoff time (Morgan Rielly – TJ Brodie) played quite well.
John Tavares and Alex Kerfoot played poorly; William Nylander played fairly well, but that line as a whole was terrible tonight. The fourth line of Kyle Clifford, Jason Spezza, and Wayne Simmonds was terrible — a common theme as of late. There’s no transition skill on that line when Engvall’s not there, making it a dump-and-chase line with a lot of dump and little chase.
The Leafs looked like a two-line team up front tonight and had only one defense pairing playing well. A lot of these problems are resolved when the team is fully healthy, but obviously, this performance was not pretty.
5. The Michael Bunting – Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner line continued to look fantastic. Bunting recorded a point for the fifth consecutive game while also drawing multiple penalties. He could have easily scored a couple tonight; his ability to get to the dirty areas pairs nicely with Marner’s playmaking and Matthews’ shot volume towards the net.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) January 20, 2022
Bunting’s cap hit is just $950k through next season, which is the bargain of the century. Signing him to a two-year deal was an incredible decision, as the Leafs probably wouldn’t have been able to re-sign him this offseason. The Leafs were desperate for a quality top-six left-winger, and they may well have found their guy.
Meanwhile, Marner has returned to the lineup with back-to-back multi-point games. The Leafs had 99 problems tonight, but he was not one of them. He takes plenty of criticism in this market — that comes with the $10.903 million price tag — but it’s clear that the Leafs are not the same team without him. He could have easily racked up multiple assists tonight.
6. Prior to tonight, Mitch Marner‘s last power-play goal was scored on February 1st, 2020 against the Ottawa Senators. That was before the league shut down for the pandemic, and it wasn’t even a 5-on-4 goal. Michael Hutchinson picked up the win over Craig Anderson that night. Frederik Gauthier, Trevor Moore, Dmytro Timashov, and Martin Marincin were all in the lineup.
You have to go back to January 2nd, 2020 to find his last 5-on-4 goal — and that was a bit of a flukey one (it went off the post, off Hellebuyck’s back, and in). It was great to see that drought come to an end. He can thank William Nylander for a beautiful set-up.
Since Marner entered the league, 183 forwards have played at least 500 minutes at 5-on-4, with Marner ranking seventh in points per minute. He’s 155th in goals per minute, which puts him on par with Nicklas Backstrom (and surprisingly ahead of Jason Spezza).
At this point, I don’t think the Leafs are in a rush to change up their power-play units. I liked their puck movement out there tonight. Marner shifted to the net-front role at times, and we got to see Nylander’s heavy one-timer. We can debate their power-play units another time, but if nothing else, it’s a relief to see Marner’s drought come to an end.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) January 20, 2022
7. Ilya Mikheyev scored his sixth goal of the season tonight in just his eighth game, leaving him one goal away from tying his total from last season in 54 games (61 if you count the playoffs). With the Leafs in need of some scoring ability next to David Kampf, the Mikheyev-Kase duo has impressed thus far. The Mikheyev-Kampf-Kase line can also be trusted against tough competition while taking on their fair share of defensive-zone starts.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) January 20, 2022
With Ondrej Kase out of the lineup tonight, bottom-six scoring looked like a weakness on paper. However, Pierre Engvall didn’t waste any time replacing his offensive output by setting up Mikheyev’s goal just 2:44 in. Engvall and Mikheyev always seem to play well together; their speed and length give their opponents no time to work with.
Kase will likely move up to the top six if injuries occur, so it’s nice to know that the Leafs have a solid checking line even if Kase is out of or up in the lineup. Mikheyev, Kampf, and Engvall were all over a 90 xGF% in this game. I wouldn’t mind seeing this line again in the near future.
8. The Leafs have given up multi-goal leads in every game of this road trip, other than the Coyotes game where they mostly trailed all game. The team defense certainly hasn’t been good enough, although they’ve been shorthanded in some games. Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren won’t be taking on the Artemi Panarin’s of the world on most nights, but the more concerning part is that the Jake Muzzin – Justin Holl pairing hasn’t had a great start to the season, either.
Meanwhile, Jack Campbell has now given up three or more goals in four straight starts and five goals in three of his last four. That’s certainly not all on him — or not even mostly on him; the Leafs haven’t been great defensively — but it might be time to give him some games off. Tonight was his 29th game of the season for a goalie with a career-high of 31. The postponed games have helped lessen his workload lately, but the Leafs are definitely giving him his fair share of work during his recent starts.
Unrelated to tonight’s game, Petr Mrazek has only played in four games this season. At some point, the team needs to see what he can do. I’d give Mrazek the next start against the New York Islanders on Saturday night. Campbell isn’t the problem here, but he’s getting bombarded with chances against in some of these games, while Mrazek could have taken a nap for large spells of the game against Arizona.
9. Igor Shesterkin stopped 20 of 20 in the final two periods. A large part of the fanbase will panic about blowing another lead, but the Leafs didn’t have a ton of puck luck tonight. Shesterkin’s strong play was a major reason for the comeback, which will likely get overlooked. Sometimes it’s just not your night, and the bounces on the Reaves and Strome goals could have gone the other way; the Leafs also wasted a couple of breakaways. It finally looked like the Leafs had gotten a break, but Auston Matthews‘ goal ended disallowed for a kicking motion.
There are some weak spots in this lineup right now. Missing one of your defense pairings is never a recipe for success, and the fourth line looks weak whenever Engvall has to move up. If Kyle Clifford and Alex Biega are in the playoff lineup, this team will probably have some issues. I’m more disappointed with John Tavares and Alex Kerfoot tonight, though, as we have reason to expect more out of them.
10. There are two big achievements to point out tonight: First, Auston Matthews‘ 10-game road scoring streak was finally snapped. He needed to score tonight to tie Steve Yzerman and Pavel Bure for the record, but his third-period goal was disallowed. Congratulations to him nonetheless for an incredible run.
Second, William Nylander scored his 300th career point. The list of current U25 players that have accomplished this is quite impressive (see below). Nylander remains also in point-per-game status. In a league where the All-Star Game isn’t a participation medal, Nylander is an All-Star.
List of players who are 25 years old or younger with 300 or more career NHL points.
– M. Tkachuk
– Nylander https://t.co/McSSUqX0iF
— Nick DeSouza (@NickDeSouza_) January 20, 2022